Publishers’ One Million iPad Conundrum

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iBooksBy Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World

The news from Cupertino, CA on Monday was impressive, and quickly made the rounds in tech media, on blogs and Twitter: Apple Sells One Million iPads!

Apple® today announced that it sold its one millionth iPad™ on Friday, just 28 days after its introduction on April 3. iPad users have already downloaded over 12 million apps from the App Store and over 1.5 million ebooks from the new iBookstore.

“One million iPads in 28 days—that’s less than half of the 74 days it took to achieve this milestone with iPhone,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Demand continues to exceed supply and we’re working hard to get this magical product into the hands of even more customers.”

While that’s amazing news for Apple’s shareholders, the underlying math suggests iBooks isn’t generating similar excitement for the publishers who jumped at the opportunity to get in front of early adopters.

Top iPad Book Apps

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Data: 1.5 million eBooks on one million iPads averages 1.5 eBooks/iPad.

Considering the iBooks app has consistently been among the top three downloaded free apps overall since it launched, and was prominently promoted as a featured app for the first couple of weeks, 1.5 million eBooks seems surprisingly low to me.

Let’s be generous and assume that half of iPad owners have any interest in eBooks and downloaded the iBooks app; that would give us a 3:1 ratio. I personally have 5 eBooks sitting on my iBooks shelf, not including Winnie the Pooh. Four are free public domain books with generic covers, presumably via Project Gutenberg, and one is a sample of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; all have gone unread as my attention has been focused on other apps that do a much better job of leveraging the iPad’s strengths.

Which, of course, brings us to the million dollar question: Knowing as many as half of the 60,000 eBooks initially claimed to be available via iBooks were Project Gutenberg’s free eBooks, how many of those 1.5 million downloaded eBooks were free vs. paid?

[ETA: O'Reilly's Senior Analyst Ben Lorica has done some digging and estimates Project Gutenberg eBooks make up 31.5% of iBooks' inventory.]

Publishers are notoriously tight-lipped about individual eBook sales, and Amazon still hasn’t seen fit to announce how many Kindles they’ve sold, never mind individual eBooks, so Apple’s data, limited as it is, offers the only hint of whether or not Random House made the right call by not jumping on the Apple and agency model bandwagon right away.

Before accepting “a significant change in the business model,” [Markus Dohle, chairman and C.E.O., Random House] wants to take time “to talk to all our stakeholders,” including authors, agents, and booksellers. “For us in the publishing industry,” he said, “Amazon has been the fastest-growing customer. I think it’s a great company.” He welcomes Apple’s entrance into e-publishing, but says, “If you do a deal with Apple on the agency model, then it means that you have to do agency deals with all other e-booksellers.”

If there was any significant sales spike for even one eBook, wouldn’t Apple have informed its publisher so they could release a joint statement declaring its success?

Better yet, what publisher wouldn’t want to be in Gilt Groupe’s position, able to make the claim based on their own data:

On April 4, a day after the device debuted, 2.4% of Gilt’s sales came from the iPad, a higher portion than expected, said Gilt founder and chairman Kevin Ryan and Chief Executive Susan Lyne in an interview. The company also said that although women comprise its core constituency, iPad users seem to be mostly men. Within the first 10 days, sales of men’s products drove 63% of iPad-generated revenue, the company said.

An interesting side note: the Kindle app has pretty consistently been #2 in Books, and has ranged everywhere from #15 to #28 overall during random spot checks. There’s no question Amazon is tracking activity there, and this week would have been a perfect time to release some data, ANY data, on eBook downloads and/or sales.

But they remain silent.

With the “agency model” only being a one-year deal with Apple; speculation from at least one unnamed publisher that “Maybe Apple will want to come back in a year and bite our heads off;” and the launch of Google Editions on the horizon threatening to blow up everyone’s walled gardens — how long does iBooks realistically have to become a clear success?

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is the Director of Programming & Business Development for Digital Book World, and a published poet, writer, and active blogger since 2003. An old and new media pragmatist, social media realist, and marketing strategist, he views publishing as a community service, and is optimistic about its future.

About Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is an old and new media pragmatist, social media realist, and marketing strategist. He is the former Director of Programming & Business Development for Digital Book World, a published poet, writer, and active blogger since 2003. He views publishing as a community service, and is optimistic about its future.

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13 thoughts on “Publishers’ One Million iPad Conundrum

  1. I have the Kindle and just bought the iPad. iBooks was the first free app I downloaded, and I love the graphics and look. I downloaded eight free e-books and no others. I couldn’t stand paying the $12 – $15 for an ebook. I’d just as soon buy the book. $9.99 was the perfect price. And the Kindle is lighter weight and easier to handle. I love Apple products (like my iPhone and iPod) but I can reconcile the paying as much as I did for the iPad 3G ($829). I’m returning it.

      • Guy,

        There is also a $15/month option for 250GB data:

        http://www.apple.com/ipad/3g/

        and in either case, you can use the 3G a la carte, like if you are going on a trip you can pay for one month and that’s it. Even $30/month is a steal as compared to even a week of wi-fi at a business-class hotel.

        Personally, at least in 2010, I’m seriously considering the 3G option for these “just in case” scenarios.

        Chris

        • The $15/month plan still adds to the overall cost of an already expensive accessory, and I’ve read several reviews that claim the signal is weak (AT&T, so no surprise) and some apps push you to WiFi for larger downloads. I experienced the same thing with the iPhone a while back when I tried to show a friend of mine The Death of Bunny Munroe sample. 3G couldn’t handle it, and we were in a bar that didn’t have WiFi.

          • Hey Guy,

            I have both the Kindle and iPad, and love the iPad for reading. Thus far, I’ve purchased three books — “Too Big to Fail,” “Why Men Love Bitches,” (our title!), and “Last Dance.” That’s three books inside of one month. Keep in mind that since the iPad has been out for only one month, even if you go with the 1.5 to 1 ratio, that’s a fair number of books in a month, particularly for many of us who don’t have as much time to read as we’d like.

            Although we don’t know how many of the downloads were free or not, I’d think the 1.5m number is pretty impressive.

            • I wonder how true some of the “data” I’ve seen that suggests the iPad is skewing more male? My wife hates it for reading; prefers her Kindle. I love it for games, casual surfing and Instapaper, but straight eBooks haven’t worked for me.

              As for the 1.5 million, without any idea of how many were paid vs. free, I’m leery. It’ll be interesting to see how the numbers increase, and how much of a habit Apple makes of announcing them. Would love to see Amazon do the same!

  2. 1.5 eBooks per iPad sold seems low to you (or 3:1, using your guesswork on the iBook app downloads)?

    In one month?

    It’s estimated that the mean average of books read per year by a given US citizen is 15 — which is 1.25 per month. If the iPad has resulted in 1.5, much less 3, that’s still more than the average consumption.

    • One of the primary eBook memes is that eBook readers buy more books than the average reader, do so on impulse, and buy far more than they did in print. I would expect initial downloads to spike early as people test it out and embrace the apps they really like, and then the download numbers would level off over time.

      If I was one of the publishers who revamped my entire eBook business model based on the potential of this one device, I’d be a little nervous right now.

  3. Does that mean every iPad has one bundled copy of “Winnie-the-Pooh,” and half of the iPads have one other book?

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